The Los Angeles Kings are the first team to play 21 games in the playoffs and advance to the Stanley Cup Final, their second in three years. The New York Rangers are playing this deep into the season for the first time in 20 years, the last time they won the Cup. Who has been the most valuable player for his team during this run? Writers from around the USA TODAY Sports Network weigh in on who is most deserving of the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Kevin Allen, USA TODAY Sports: Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
The Selke Trophy winner is the league's top scorer and plays a strong defensive game against the opponent's top stars. He was a beast against Jonathan Toews in Sunday's win against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Mike Brehm, USA TODAY Sports: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
I believe that the Kings will win in seven, and because the series is going seven, that leaves open the possibility of a player from the losing team winning the trophy. In that case, it usually goes to a goaltender, and Lundqvist has been brilliant this postseason. He'll be a difference-maker in the Final, and if Game 7 is low-scoring, it should be enough for him to be named MVP.
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Rick Roos, DobberHockey.com: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Both Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter have impressively tallied more than point per game numbers in these playoffs, but neither one has been a dominant force each and every game. And 2012 Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick's inflated goals-against average and save percentage thus far almost assuredly take him out of the running no matter how well he fares against the Rangers. Meanwhile, Doughty has managed not only gaudy offensive numbers (16 points in 21 games so far), but also a very solid plus 5 despite facing the toughest lines among Kings opponents. He's averaging a workhorse-like 27:50 per game, which is over five minutes more than the second highest total among Kings players (Slava Voynov's 22:28).
RANGERS-KINGS: Who has the advantage?
It's hard to choose just one deserving candidate for the Conn Smythe. While Henrik Lundqvist is certainly deserving for the Rangers, there are many options on the Los Angeles side. From Drew Doughty to leading goal scorer Marian Gaborik, all of them could win for different reasons. But Anze Kopitar has found a way to lead the team both offensively and defensively. He leads the playoffs with 24 points in 21 games and has boosted the play of the players around him, including Gaborik who had been quiet coming into the playoffs. On the defensive end, he's proven himself an asset with his plus 9 rating and almost 45 minutes of shorthanded ice time.
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Kristen Shilton, USA TODAY Sports: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Yes, Henrik Lundqvist has at times been absolutely sensational in the playoffs. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty has been great throughout the postseason. He has played an average of 27:50 in these playoffs (more than anyone who will share the ice with him in the Final) and whether called upon offensively, defensively or on special teams, Doughty has consistently brought it. Just as Darryl Sutter is the calm and collected coach, Doughty is his player counterpart, always leading by example and keeping focus. The Kings would not have been able to overcome the many obstacles they faced without him.
RANGERS: Why they can win it all
Jimmy Hascup, USA TODAY Sports: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Doughty makes the game look so easy. He's a tremendous skater, great defender and relentless workhorse on the ice. He's the playoff leader among defensemen in points with 16 and has averaged 27:50 of ice time per night. The offense flows through him, the ice is tilted in the Kings' favor when he's on the ice. Doughty plays (and thrives) in all situations; he has a plus 5 rating and 51 shots on goal.
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